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Inhofe and Crichton: Together at Last!

Filed under: — group @ 28 September 2005

Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann

Today we witnessed a rather curious event in the US Senate. Possibly for the first time ever, a chair of a Senate committee, one Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), invited a science fiction writer to advise the committee (Environment and Public Works), on science facts–in this case, the facts behind climate change. The author in question? None other than our old friend, Michael Crichton whom we’ve had reason to mention before (see here and here). The committee’s ranking member, Senator James Jeffords (I) of Vermont, was clearly not impressed. Joining Crichton on climate change issues was William Gray of hurricane forecasting fame, Richard Benedick (a negotiator on the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting chemicals), and David Sandalow (Brookings Institution). As might be expected, we paid a fair bit of attention to the scientific (and not-so-scientific) points made.

Many of the ‘usual suspects’ of half-truths and red herrings were put forth variously by Crichton, Gray, and Inhofe over the course of the hearing:

  • the claim that scientists were proclaiming an imminent ice age in the 1970s (no, they weren’t),
  • the claim that the 1940s to 1970s cooling in the northern hemisphere disproves global warming (no, it doesn’t),
  • the claim that important pieces of the science have not been independently reproduced (yes, they have),
  • the claim that global climate models can’t reproduce past climate change (yes, they can)
  • the claim that climate can’t be predicted because weather is chaotic (wrong…)

and so on.

We won’t dwell on the testimony that involved us personally since the underlying issues have been discussed and dealt with here before, though we will note that comments from both of us pointing out errors in the testimony were entered into the Senate record by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California). Instead, we will focus on the bigger picture.

First, let’s be clear where there is agreement. Climate science doesn’t deal in certainties – it deals in probablities and the balance of evidence. We agree with Crichton’s statement that ‘Prediction is not fact’. That certainly doesn’t mean, however, that projections of possible future climate changes are not meaningful or useful, as Crichton claims.

Crichton seemed to imply that “prediction” (such as that provided by weather or climate models) is useless in the decision making process. (As an aside, we wonder how Gray, who is largely known for prediction of hurricane behavior based on (statistical) modeling, felt about this?). We fundamentally disagree. All science is about observation, understanding and prediction. When those predictions work, you make new predictions. When they don’t, you revisit the observations, attempt to improve your understanding of the underlying processes, and make a new prediction. And so on. In the case of climate models, this is complicated by the fact that the time scales involved need to be long enough to average out the short-term noise, i.e. the chaotic sequences of ‘weather’ events. Luckily, we have past climate changes to test the models against. Even more to the point, successful climate predictions have actually been made in past Senate hearings. The figure at the end of this comment by Jim Hansen demonstrates that projections of global mean climate presented in a 1988 senate hearing (17 years ago) have actually been right on the money

Others panelists attempted to combat the onslaught of disinformation. Sandalow sensibly suggested that the National Academy of Sciences be used to inform the Senate on where the consensus of the science is, and Benedick made some excellent points about how legislation can be successful in the face of scientific controversy and uncertain predictions. However, none of that provided as good theater as the other witnesses.

A highlight of the session was Gray making one particular statement that he may be asked to defend (at least financially): “I’ll take on any scientist in this field …. I predict that in 5 to 8 years the globe will begin to cool” (1:10:00 on the video). This would appear to be a direct call to those “global warmers” (see also here, here and here) who are trying to get contrarians to put their money where their mouths are (with very limited success). We eagerly await developments!

Inhofe ended the hearing by declaring his desire to ‘sit back and look at [this] in a non-scientific way’. We think he already has.


280 Responses to “Inhofe and Crichton: Together at Last!”

  1. 1
    Hugh Curran says:

    Would it not be better to ignore oafs like Imhoaf? It is curious that he calls upon a science fiction writer to appear on climate change. I would think that Crichton, who has had some scientific training as an MD (?), would not intrude on a discipline so far removed from his training and background. Perhaps he views all disciplines as suspect? Has anyone looked into his academic background to see if he published any papers in reputable scientific journals?

  2. 2
    Jenn says:

    you can’t ignore them, because the Imhoafs of the world can say things that affect how a lot of people think, because unfortunately a lot of the American public is easily swayed by strategies and arguments that dont necessarily hold up under scrutiny. the majority of the public isn’t going to do the research to investigate the validity of such claims. so though it may be better to ignore Imhoaf, you can’t because not everyone else will be.

  3. 3
    Dan Smith says:

    Crichton and Inhofe cannot be ignored if for no other reason than that they are influential. Defense of the real science should be no less vigorous than has been the defense of the faith by Christians who recognized the threat posed by the fictional work, “The DaVinci Code.” Often, fiction is not just fiction in the public mind, and the objective of the skeptics is to spread doubt, not engage in true debate.

  4. 4

    like the town that fails to put up a stop light until enough cadavers are carried away from an intersection, i am very pessimistic the United States will act on consequences of warming or mitigate them until the evidence or damage is overwhelming.

    mitigation is the name of the game right now. i doubt warming trends can be reversed quickly.

    of course, the economic damage from a succession of catastrophes might end the USA’s status as a world leader, simply because prevention is, for the most part, cheaper than reaction.

    like consider evacuation as a means of response: if the natural threat is avoided, it seems all it does is teach people to disbelieve in the value of the alarm. if the threat materializes, it’s essentially a means of letting the threat take whatever it wants, “pre-displacing” the population to elsewhere in the States.

  5. 5
    Max says:

    I am not surprised by this take of the government, after all the other options promoted by Green think tanks seem to have failed (Kyoto-Protocol f.e.). I don’t know what kind of climate change we will get and wether humans are responsible. This is for the scientists to work out.

    But imo, there is no reason that politics should interfere in it or use it to employ ridiculous policies that only hurt most hard-working people. (I live in Germany and thanks to the Kyoto-protocol my energy provider has raised his rates)

    I don’t think that politics is the answer to global warming, but technology and this is the field scientists should engage in. Therefore, I think good forecast methods are necessary and I think Mann et. al. have certain points to make on this.

  6. 6

    Inhofe has a degree in Economics from Tulsa, so he may not be best placed to interpret scientific data. Since then his history has been the army, small business and politics. They wouldn’t seem to be great preparation for scientific interpretation either. But current climate research indicates uncertainty (never mind that we’re speaking about probability) in the future, and as an economist he will know that uncertainty is bad for business. So Crichton’s views are useful because they imbue certainty – it’s all twaddle, all remains as it was, ergo certainty and business-as-usual.

    This is going to be a long fight to enable the population at large to be able to appreciate the import of the current climate consensus within the scientific community. Until that happens there will be no political incentive to take things seriously, because no politician will lose their seat over it, because the electorate remains ignorant.

  7. 7
    Pete says:

    Re: comment 1 on Crichton viewing all disciplines as suspect…that’s probably close to the truth. Look at the range of his novels. Many deal with science-technology running rampant. And at least one character seems to be the “conscience of humanity” asking: Should we really be doing this? That, and the novels and movies are great-paying gigs. Some science-fictions writers write from a basis of hope they see in the new possiblities science and technology can bring. He seems to write as a Jeremiah. It’s almost as though he has a deep suspicion of science, regardless of what the science acutally is trying to accomplish.

  8. 8
    James Annan says:

    I commented briefly here. (Tried a trackback but it didn’t work – your fault or mine?)

  9. 9
    Roger Smith says:

    “(I live in Germany and thanks to the Kyoto-protocol my energy provider has raised his rates)”

    Actually you can mostly blame your government for giving away pollution allowances to generators instead of using the money to reduce rates.
    The http://www.rggi.org trading program in the US will likely auction at least part of the allowances as we’ve learned from Germany and the UK’s mistakes.

    Read more here:
    http://www.energy-business-review.com/article_feature.asp?guid=56712827-16C9-4A21-AD09-192980B92C28

  10. 10
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    To be balanced, the committee should also get the creators of DAY AFTER TOMORROW & WATER WORLD to advise them. I’m doing a fictional piece on runaway global warming, and I’d be happy to advise them. Who needs science, when we have fiction writers. Or, maybe it’s just that gov people don’t want to be balanced or get the truth (stochastic as it may be).

    As for Crichton’s medical background, I’d say he’s a hypocrite to the hypocratic oath – First, do no harm, & don’t be in the business of killing people. The “medical model,” unlike the “scientific model,” tries to avoid the false negative (of saying there is no problem, when in fact there is) in order to protect people’s lives. The “scientific model” avoids the false positive (of saying there is a connection, when there isn’t) to maintain their reputation so people will believe them. “Scientific caution” (and the RealClimate folks are right on the mark in that department) is very different from “medical caution” or “policy-making” (which should sort of be like the medical model at the societal level).

    Some may argue that prevention costs money, but I’ve found (to my surprise) that “proaction” on GW is not only cheaper (#4) than “reaction,” it actually saves money for households & businesses without lowering living standards or productivity — at least down to reductions of 1/2 our GHG emissions (I modestly figure), maybe 3/4, as Amory Lovins of NATURAL CAPITALISM figures. Now it would probably take five or so years to reduce 1/2 or 3/4 of our GHG emissions cost-effectively (assuming people put forth serious effort to do so). That’s how long it took me. By that time, then we might think about sacrificing a bit. Or new technology or methods by then might even help us reduce more. Let’s do it, people. Anyone out there? Knock, knock.

    I happened to talk to an government engineer yesterday about global warming, and he trotted out Crichton’s STATE OF FEAR, suggesting it had a lot of truth in it. I said no it didn’t & he’d better check out RealClimate.org to see its critique by real climate scientists (luckily you’re on that topic again, in case he visits here).

  11. 11
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #10,

    “To be balanced, the committee should also get the creators of DAY AFTER TOMORROW & WATER WORLD to advise them.”

    I concur, though it would lower the common denominator even more.

    What we need is for someone like Drs. Mann, Bradley, Santer, Karl, Trenberth, etc. to go on television to explain what is really happening, in scientific, but understandable, language to raise the bar and the consciousness of North Americans to this urgent issue.

    What is unfortunate, though, is that, by doing this, network news stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) risk losing advertising. Companies that are opposed to mandatory measures will be unhappy with a real scientist going on television and explaining what is happening and what we must do to combat climate change (i.e. setting significant and mandatory greenhouse gas reduction targets), which, they think, will reduce their profit margins.

  12. 12

    It is rather curious that apparently Crichton’s testimony ended up asserting the degree of uncertainty we face in making forecasts regarding future climate or the anthropogenic role in it. Thus, if Inhofe’s goal was to obtain certainty and a particular line, he did not get it from Crichton, certainly not to the extent he was probably hoping for.

  13. 13
    Max says:

    That’s not right Rosser, Crichton said that the best policy is having no policy on climate change and this is my idea, too.
    It’s the uncertainty that is dangerous, when used in technocratic rules made by government.

  14. 14
    Armand MacMurray says:

    Thanks for your summary of the “usual suspects”; in reviewing them, I followed the link for the third rebuttal(“yes, they have”), but only found a description of a press release about the submision of two papers about five months ago. Is there any news on when these papers will be available to the general public (e.g. are they now “in press” or are the articles posted somewhere)?

    [Response: Rumour has it that both manuscripts are pending final acceptance from the respective journals. – mike]

  15. 15
    Jack Saporito says:

    I was wondering if you were aware that it appears that aircraft (jet) are a major, if not the major cause of accelerated climate change (both by direct & indirect emissions and also warming effects)?

    Some information can be found at: http://www.areco.org (see “Studies”, “Climate”.

    Thank you.

    Jack Saporito

  16. 16
    Leonard Evens says:

    I live in Illinois. My provider of electric power is proposing to raise rates, and will probably succeed in doing so despite some opposition from state officials. More seriously, my natural gas rates are predicted to go up by about 70 percent, as reported in the media. And all this despite the fact that my national leaders, including Senator Inhofe, seem entirely disinclined to do anything to deal seriously with CO_2 emissions.

  17. 17
    Brian S. says:

    Thanks for the tip. Here’s the email I sent to Dr. Gray:
    ———-
    Dear Dr. Gray,

    I watched with interest your testimony before the
    Senate yesterday, when you said:

    “I predict, now I think I know as much as anybody,
    I’ll take on any scientist in this field to talk about
    this, I predict in the next 5 or 8 years or so the
    globe is going to begin to cool as it did in the
    middle 40’s.”

    I would like to know if you’re willing to make a bet
    over this confident prediction of yours.

    My global warming bets are here:

    http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_backseatdriving_archive.html#111700433898143899

    The bets are for 10 or 20 year periods. The 20 year
    bets at the least should be very attractive to you,
    based on your testimony before Congress.

    I would also note that one of my proposed bets is a
    “charity” bet where all proceeds go to the charity of
    the winner’s choice, and your choice could easily be
    your Tropical Meteorology Project.

    While I am not a scientist, I don’t think that should
    decrease the value of my bet – my money is still good,
    and I would be happy to enter into an enforceable
    contract. If you only care to bet scientists,
    however, I can also put you in touch with them.

    Please contact me if you have any questions, and I
    hope to hear from you.

    Best,
    Brian Schmidt
    ————–

    I literally just sent this, so we’ll have to give him a little while to see if it generates a response.

  18. 18
    Florifulgurator says:

    Re #13 et al,
    “the best policy is having no policy on climate change”

    This is hilarious. So the mood now swings from flat denial to suicidal resignation?

  19. 19
    A. Simmons says:

    On something of a tangent, I was interested by the five bullet points summarising popular myths about GW (and links to refutations.) I find these, and a few others, come up time and time again in conversation with uninformed people. About a year ago I recklessly announced on Slashdot* that I was so fed up with seeing the same misinformation and misunderstandings repeated ad nauseam that I’d take on the job of collating a FAQ page listing the most common such myths and misunderstandings, along with brief summaries of why and how they’re wrong and links to further information. A lot of nonsense could then be easily refuted by reference to such a ‘GW Myth List’. One of the email responses said “Someone’s already doing this, it’s called realclimate.org”, and I dropped the idea and lost myself in trying to catch up with the dozens of very interesting stories posted here.

    One reason I allowed myself to get discouraged was that when I started collecting ‘in the wild’ examples, I stopped collecting at about thirty-five statements which ranged from the utterly wild or ignorant, to the relatively subtle criticisms of the likes of Crichton and Co. I also didn’t have the resources to do the debunking process justice. I wanted to have links to journal articles and the like, or failing that, to articles on credible and authoritative science sites – not to mention that I also doubted my ability not to make hideous blunders or mistakes of my own.

    So, my questions is: has anyone else compiled such a list?
    If not, would anyone here be interested in helping to compile such a list?

    (* No, I don’t really expect learned or informed debate on Slashdot, but repeated clear explanations of how other popular misapprehensions are wrong has eventually caused some to either die out or retreat to the status of ironic in-joke – which leads me to hope, perhaps naively, that the might be true of wider society.)

  20. 20
    Florifulgurator says:

    Re #19,
    “repeated clear explanations”

    Yes, it works. Dead slow, but works. Much more needs to be done to push brain lard on. Plus: Don´t be sparing with ironic in-jokes and dark sarcasm. That also works. What else can there be uttered about contemporary U.S. senators?

  21. 21

    Michael Crichton’s basic question was whether the “methodology of climate science is significantly rigorous to yield a reliable result,” given the modification of data by filling in gaps, and the supposed lack of verification of the results. He cited the Mann hockey-stick flap as an example.

    His second point was “what to do with research that is unverifiable?” citing the UN’s 3rd assessment report stating that GCM’s are “unverifiable.”

    If Michael Crichton understands science at all, then he knows these are unexceptional questions, with rather standard answers. The question therefore remains: why did he do this?

    Nonetheless, climate scientists must work very carefully to address these public criticisms at every step, and we may be glad that it will no doubt improve their rhetorical skills.

    While the idea of verification of results is a good (if unexceptional) one, it should be remembered that part of the political tactic of the anti-science politicians in Washington on other issues (see examples in Chris Mooney’s book) has been to introduce as many conflicting studies from industry-funded thinktanks as possible, however faulty those studies are, to bury the debate under noise. So look out, the obfuscation has only just begun!

    By far the smartest speaker was Richard Benedick, who showed the way into the future for climate policy. This is a brilliant man. He was very persuasive in his depiction of unpredicted consequences, and inferring the possibilities of nonlinear events, in his story of the ozone-damaging chemicals. In addition, his CFC episode showed that market economics is creative enough to find new ways to do things, with no net loss of growth.

    Despite the impossibility of predicting the unpredictable, the fact remains that OTHER complex systems we have observed, usually INCREASE the probability of catastrophe under new “forcing.” This is a factual result, and the inference is clear.

    It argues for the Precautionary Principle. That is where we are all going to end up.

  22. 22
    Mark Bahner says:

    “A highlight of the session was Gray making one particular statement that he may be asked to defend (at least financially): “I’ll take on any scientist in this field …. I predict that in 5 to 8 years the globe will begin to cool.”

    I’ll take on any scientist who is a primary or secondary author of the IPCC TAR, as well as William Connolley and Gavin Schmidt, that Michael Chrichton’s prediction of 0.81 degrees Celsius warming in this century will be more accurate than all the scientists who came up with the IPCC TAR:

    http://www.longbets.org/180

    http://discuss.longbets.org/discuss/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=180

  23. 23
    Brian S. says:

    Re #19:

    Tim Lambert wrote a helpful post refuting skeptics’ arguments that I’ve used several times, called “Global Warming Sceptic Bingo” (forgive his Australian misspelling). It’s here:

    http://timlambert.org/2005/04/gwsbingo/

    While very useful, I think an even more comprehensive version of this idea would be even better.

    Different topic: we need some type of clearinghouse to announce when prominent or semi-prominent people deny global warming, so people like me will know to ask them if they’ll put their money where their mouths are.

  24. 24
    Keith Moulton says:

    Just saw the whole thing in video (amazing what I can do from Yokohama). Much of your criticism seems justified, but to offer a little counterbalance:

    I don’t recall them making a claim that scientists, specifically, were making peer-reviewed predictions about an imminent ice age, but rather, such talk (in the popular press) was common at the time. Likewise, I don’t believe they refererred to the cooling in the 40s-70s as proof per se global warming is not occurring, but that it should raise questions in people’s minds about drawing conclusions based on recent trends.

    Perhaps unfortunately, the reality is creation of public policy is determined to a far greater extent by popular publications such as Time and CNN than by peer-reviewed journals, since it is inherent in a polician’s nature to seek votes and influence above other considerations, and it is the groundswell of public opinion which gives politicians windows of opportunity to act. Still, we should also be wary of placing too much faith in peer review, since the problem of global climate is interdisciplinary and professional review is rarely done across fields.

    I am inclined to support your third point, but it wouldn’t change the fact scientific studies with great influence on policy are often not independently verified. With respect to modeling, it is a great tool for finding the right questions to ask, but by their very definition can not provide answers since a model always has the possibility of carrying the modeller’s biases and blind spots. In particular, unless there’s an accurate model for modern human society — and there isn’t — the blind spot in this case is the very agent for change that is being predicted.

    It was disappointing both sides didn’t address the issue of whether anything actually should be done in the face of climate change, be it human-induced, sun-induced, or whatever. Inhofe et al. seem to have allowed that if GW is actually occurring, they would necessarily have to change course and create a specific policy to lower it. Likewise, Clinton et al. (and nearly all climatologists as far as I can tell) seem to take government intervention on an urgent, global level — literally, laws to change the weather — as a given. My preference (and shouldn’t it matter as much as any climatologist?) would be not to attempt a massive global weather “correction” by government bureaucrats (right on, #13).

    It is also troubling the term “scientist”, as repeatedly used by both sides, only seems to refer to those with degrees in certain hard sciences. Anyone wanting to understand the human organism as climate participant had better be willing to get dirty in the social sciences. Yes, economics is a science (re #6 above, though I would concede Inhofe is no scientist!), as are anthropology, statistics, behavioral sciences, political science, archaeology, history, sociology, etc., etc.

    Peace.

  25. 25
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Re #5 and #13

    I would question whether any government can ever have “no policy on climate change”.

    The policies which lead to higher emissions are not “do nothing” policies. They involve billions of dollars of subsidies of fossil fuel industries, of airport expansion and of road building, regulations which favour dirty technologies over clearn ones, granting planning permission for coal fire stations but refusing it for wind turbines, etc. The high emission scenarios come about because of very active government policies, and decisions made by businesses and individuals, not because of people doing nothing. And all this is done in the clear knowledge that an unstable climate is threatening most of our cities and food supplies, as well as much of life on earth.

    Max complains about his higher energy bills. The main reason for this is that natural gas is not being produced (or delivered to Europe and North America) at a rate which matches demand. I just read that China is becoming a world leader in renewables and can power 35 million homes with solar energy. If your German government (or any other) had shifted support from fossil fuels to renewables, perhaps Max’s home would now be powered with solar energy or wind and he would not have to worry so much about ever higher fuel prices. Plus his government could be earning a lot of money from exporting renewables – instead of risking a trade deficit by purchasing gas at ever higher costs. After all, supporting clean energies is not necessarily more costly and no less profitable than supporting dirty ones. It also makes people healthier even in the short term, apart from helping to stabilise the climate.

  26. 26
    TCO says:

    Robert Heinlein gave testimony on the space program and aging. I think other writers have done so as well.

    [Response: You appear to be correct. Heinlein was actually an engineer, but clearly he was called to testify due to his status as a pioneering sci-fi author. It just goes to prove the old maxim about history repeating itself… -gavin]

  27. 27
    TCO says:

    I don’t understand it when people who are worried about Global Warming complain about peak oil or high gas prices. High prices REDUCE CONSUMPTION. One of the major levers that people look at in fighting GW is to raise costs of using fossil fuels by taxing them. If we run out of them anyway, then that’s going to reduce consumption ANYWAY. Pick a disaster: (1) run out of fossil fuels, (2) keep using fossil fuels. But THINK about the interaction.

    And please don’t come back with some comment about how the government should take care of everything and invent magic foofoo dust of science to fix all energy problems with stuff that is both cheap and clean…you want your renewables…prepare to PAY and have a lower standard of living…

  28. 28
    Bob says:

    Leaving the gross misrepresetations about MBH aside. The thing that sticks out to me is the contradicting statements offered by Crchton and Inhofe in the Q & A session. Crichton claims that proxies are useless. Inhofe claims the MWP was warmer than present. How, exactly, does Inhofe know this if proxies are useless? On what basis can he make such such a claim? Where is Inhofe’s science?

  29. 29
    J. Sperry says:

    Re #21

    Michael Crichton’s basic question was whether the “methodology of climate science is significantly rigorous to yield a reliable result,” given the modification of data by filling in gaps, and the supposed lack of verification of the results. He cited the Mann hockey-stick flap as an example.

    His second point was “what to do with research that is unverifiable?” citing the UN’s 3rd assessment report stating that GCM’s are “unverifiable.”

    If Michael Crichton understands science at all, then he knows these are unexceptional questions, with rather standard answers.

    I thought these were some of Crichton’s strongest points. I was quite intrigued by his claim that the TAR calls GCM’s unverifiable. Indeed, if there are “rather standard answers” to the above questions, would someone kindly give us the answers and reasons why the questions are “unexceptional”?

    Re #24
    I second the notion that global cooling was not brought up in terms of what scientists believed, but in terms of hysterical politicians and popular magazines.

    [Response: Well the discussion in the TAR is actually very clear about what can be evaluated (current climate conditions and variability, past changes etc.) and the use of GCM projections of possible future climates, and all of the apparently dramatic points made by Crichton are acknowledged and discussed there. We’ve discussed this previously. -gavin]

  30. 30
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    I’m just a reader here, but may I, Oliver Twist-like, ask “Please, sir, a little less.”

    The info to rebut the likes of Crichton is already available, and coverage of the politics lessens the focus of this site.

    [Response: Sorry about that. We’ll be back to normally scheduled programming shortly. -gavin]

  31. 31
    SteveF says:

    Slightly off topic, but I hope no one minds. Has there been a discussion on this site of the (relatively) recent McKintrick & McIntyre (2005) paper? I’m away from the library and my subscription to Web of Knowledge ran out today!

    [Response: here. – gavin]

  32. 32
    SteveF says:

    Thanks Gavin. Carry on………

  33. 33
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #22: The problem with making bets over a long time period like 100 years is that it becomes problematic to define the terms. I happen to agree with you that the middle or upper end of the IPCC scenarios are unlikely to come to pass but for rather different reasons: I believe that if we are headed in that direction, we will change course and avert such a disaster.

    Really, what the argument is about is not what the temperature will be in 2100 but what it will be in the absence of taking any measures to prevent climate change from occurring. Those are two very different issues.

    Re #27: TCO, I happen to agree with much of what you said about high gas prices. I am happy that prices have gone up. (Well, I am not so happy when I pay $30 to fill up my Prius but I am happy when I think about what is really best for the country and the world.) On the other hand, I think it would be better for our economy if prices went up in a more controlled manner and if some of the money went to the government which could use it for investment in alternative energy resources or to reduce taxes, rather than just going to windfall profits for the oil companies. Still, all things considered, higher gas prices are better than artificially low ones in my book.

  34. 34
    Timothy says:

    Re #27 [TCO]: The only problem with waiting for peak oil, etc to help us cut CO2 emissions is that the default response of the oil companies is to get the oil from a dirtier, more polluting source [such as the Canadian tar sands]. Also if we burn all the oil that there is, that would probably release too much CO2 to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade.

    I think that we need to find a way to keep most of the fossil fuels safely underground if we are going to avoid ‘dangerous’ consequences [see perhaps http://www.stabilisation2005.com such as melting of the Greenland ice sheet. [OT: New Orleans’ levees would have to be mighty high to keep *that* water out!]

    I don’t think this is going to be possible without direct government intervention [mainly making CO2 emissions expensive and subsidising/investing in renewables]

  35. 35
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #27, here’s an idea: Create a GHG tax, so that the cost of emitting GHGs goes up, but then put that money from taxes back in people’s pockets, so they haven’t lost one cent. There may be enough smart or poor people out there to start looking into energy efficiency, conservation, and cheaper forms of alt. energy (I’m paying $1 a month less for 100% wind power), who would like to save $$ on this scheme.

    I think the way it works right now is on April 15th we pay for other people to lavishly emit GHGs through subsidies & tax breaks to fossil fuels. In other words, we not only pay more at the pump, but also on tax day.

  36. 36
    Dano says:

    Re #27:

    1. In America, TCO, gas consumption may be relatively inelastic. Land rents force folk farther away from Central Business Districts. The term is called ‘drive ’til you qualify’.

    Discretionary trips can be reduced, but not the drive to work without some disruption.

    2. You may want to think about the connection you made between worrying and complaining wrt my 1. High fuel prices affect the lower incomes more than the higher incomes. Future scenarios of climate change necessarily consider social change as well, and fuel prices are a component of these scenarios; fuel use being relatively inelastic affects consideration of social change, which affects emissions, which effects climate.

    3. Your request is dependent upon the premise that the constructed narrative of gummint solves everything is something that everyone who does not follow your ideology believes. You may want to double-check that premise. Politics is used to help solve these issues, and politics is a component of government. If you have a solution where politics works outside of government, do share.

    Best,

    D

  37. 37
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    This whole thing is depressing. In 1990, I thought all I had to do was tell people about GW, and everyone would start solving this problem (esp after I found out the $$$ that could be saved). Nada. Then in 1995, I thought, we now have 95% certainty on this (which seemed a scandal, since we should’ve started acting well before 95% certainty), now people will act. Nada. Then in 2001, with the U.S. Bishops’ statement that the prudent thing to do was reduce our GHGs, even if we weren’t sure of the science (see: http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/globalclimate.htm ), I thought at least Catholics would start doing something. (I thought the statement a scandal for not coming out 10 years earlier – as the Pope’s statements on GW had.) Nada.

    And last year we get STATE OF FEAR, but since then all sorts of actual GW evidence (I’m not referring to models here) has been pouring in (e.g., warming oceans). I think Crichton mentions in his book about some glaciers (I think in Greenland) that are increasing. If I’m not mistaken, I think those self-same glaciers are now found to be decreasing (or at least glaciers in general are decreasing), etc., etc. So I thought by now Crichton would have realized his errors, and wouldn’t have the audacity to persist with them.

    I now realize there is no amount of evidence that will ever convince contrarians that GW is happening & is (net) harmful. It’s like banging our heads against the wall. Anyway, I just keep banging.

  38. 38
    nanny_govt_sucks says:

    #27 – “One of the major levers that people look at in fighting GW is to raise costs of using fossil fuels by taxing them.”

    Fuel taxes are already quite high. Higher even than sales taxes and both the federal government and state governments take their share. More info is here: http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/analysis_publications/primer_on_gasoline_prices/html/petbro.html

    Quite unnoticed in the GW hysteria is the amount of our taxpayer dollars that go to the fossil fuel industry in the form of direct and indirect subsidies. Yes, Exxon, and Mobil are corporate welfare queens thanks to your local sleazeball politician. More info: http://www.taxpayer.net/TCS/fuelsubfact.htm . But that link doesn’t touch on the indirect subsidies known as the Gulf War I and II, the securing of the seas for oil transport, and the state department which spends a lot of its time placating foreign governments to insure a reliable supply of oil flows in our direction. These subsidies act to artificially lower the price of gas.

    If we paid the true price for gas at the pump, then alternative fuel vehicles, riding a bike and even walking would look a lot more attractive and CO2 emissions from autos would plummet.

  39. 39
    David Hiser says:

    Your castigation of Crichton would seem to lend credence to one of his primary arguements. That those who are skeptical of the scientific basis of popularly held theories such as human caused global warming are immedietly attacked on a personal basis, not on the merits of their arguments.
    As to Hansen’s model prediction accuracy. He accuses Crichton, in “State of Fear” for deliberately and falsely pointing out a 300% error in his Temperature Prediction results. Showing that one of his models correctly predicted the current tempature base on one forcast of CO2 output. He fails to mention that the model based on more extreme CO2 output, the one closer to actual output over the last two decades, was in fact 300% incorrect. Crichton stated all this in his book. So you just have to wonder who is being false here, and why.
    Overall, I like this website, I find it much more informative than many of the purely ‘political’ propaganda sites that discuss GW.

    (and I wouldn’t have found it except for Crichton and George Will)

    [Response: I have been quite careful to only ‘castigate’ Crichton’s arguments, not him personally. I think he is demonstrably wrong, and he has used misleading arguments to make his points. With respect to the Hansen testimony, it is quite clear from the linked commentary by Hansen that all of the results discussed in his testimony came from scenario B which was described as ‘most probable’. The uncertainty in future economic growth (then and now) means that we have to use end member scenarios (both worst (A) and best (C) cases) to bracket the possiblities. These should not be assumed to be equally probable – which is way Hansen’s testimony focussed on the most probable scenario (B). That this scenario has actually proved to be the most realistic, and the projected temperature changes the closest to observed is a triumph of climate modelling. To turn this triumph into a condemnation of the approach as Crichton does is misleading and wrong. – gavin]

  40. 40
    TCO says:

    38 seems to conflate two issues which go in the opposite way: (1) taxes (which author agrees are very high) and (2) indirect subsidies of oil prices by fighting wars. One drives price down, one raises it. The author does not note the difference in directionality or distinguish which effect is larger than the other. Finally, to give her credit, her comments DO HAVE relevance to a comparison of renewables/gasoline (my throwaway gibe), but don’t affect the logic of the main point that if “peak oil is the disaster people are screaming about and the Saudis are misstating their reserves and we will have a huge crash that the futures markets are not capturing** because of running out of oil faster than expected and this causing $200/barrel and creating a recession”, than this factor is one that ameliorates GW.*** At least let’s be insightful and realize that the contemplated disasters pull you in different ways.

    *Would be more reasonable to say that GW1 reduced gas prices by stopping Saddam from taking over the SA peninsula. GW2 probably raised them by mucking about the whole area and reducing Iraqi production (unless you’re a neocon and think we need to be there long term).

    **Econbrowser site is a good one to read up on peak oil. Led by a UCSD econ professor

    ***It’s of course an interesting issue as to which is worse (if you could pick). Perhaps a (lower end of the climate models) GW would not be so bad and would be preferable in terms of impact on people all over the globe, especially the poor people, rather than $200/bbl oil.

  41. 41
    TCO says:

    WRT 39, the person’s comment was saying that CO2 went up the amount in scenario A, but we got the warming in scenario B. I would think this is relevant (if so…I have not checked out the Hassen stuff yet…so please spoonfeed me the facts!) So what if he predicted a set amount of warming and we got that amount if it is a result of his errors cancelling (underestimated CO2 rise, but overestimated impact of CO2). At a minimum, this shows that the impact of CO2 was not well understood.

    [Response: Not so. The actual rate of growth of CO2 was closest to scenario B, not A. -gavin]

  42. 42
    TCO says:

    36: wrt inelasticity, yes, gas is relatively inelastic (one reason the government loves to tax it!!). I agree with you.* My major point (in analogy to peak oil/global warming) is that the issues argue against each other. If you beleive in inelasticity, means carbon taxes are not as effective a GW reduction means (or must be very draconian). Of coures if you are a real peak oiler and think we will have a hard, hard bust (and I’m not…I think those types are a little nutty), then the inelasticity is a bit irrelevant. Those guys go around saying the oil just isn’t there (and if you blather about biodisel or shale, they will tell you that it takes more energy to get that stuff than you get out of it.) Note I’ve also (once or twice) kvetched Steve M and the auditors on similar issue of multiple lines of attack. (some of the criticisms might be individuall corrrect, concieveably, but were self-contradictory…they couldn’t all be valid gripes as they fought each other.)

    Will address rest of your points later.

    *and the whole pick where you live by driving out on the highway and get off at an exit where you can afford it is cute–I heard that one before. And a reason that I sympathize with the red-state exurbanites…although I’m a yupppy urbanite…but not a John Kerry townhouse in Georgetown rich type…rather an apartment dweller…that is until I wing me a wifo.

  43. 43
    TCO says:

    Gavin, thanks for the spoonfeeding. I guess to make it mathematical could take the ratio of temp rise/CO2 rise? Then compare that?

  44. 44
    Bob says:

    wrt 42. Are you aware that carbon is emitted from sources other than gasoline combustion?

  45. 45
    TCO says:

    WRT43: Yes.

    [Response: Note: discussions of economics and elasticity of supply are outside the remit of this site – William]

  46. 46
    David Hiser says:

    RE 39
    Gavin,
    Thanks for the reply. If what you say is true and the input for Model B was closest to the actual then Crichton was wrong to use it as an example and probably owes Hansen an apology. It would have been useful to have had his forcasted CO2 plotted w/ the actual.
    I am used to seeing plots for Atmospheric CO2 for the entire 20th century and they certainly show expotential growth (Model A) over that period. http://www.grida.no/climate/vital/07.htm
    Which makes me curious as to why during the period 1910-1940 when surface tempatures increased even more dramatically than the last two decades, http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig2-5.htm
    the increase in CO2 was fairly flat?
    I hope these links work.

    [Response: Part of the answer is in http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/figspm-4.htm – William]

  47. 47
    tom says:

    The best science available said that we needed to spend a few billion to protect New Orleans. This was ignored. Now we’re spending hundreds of billions. I guess we never learn.

  48. 48
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #24, I’ve also brought up the need to consider social science “forcings,” but the CC models do sort of account for them by including a range of emission scenarios:

    1. Worse-case, we all totally pig out perversely emitting all the GHGs we can as fast as we can (even though it makes no economic sense at all to do so), and

    2. Best-case, we all suddenly become decent, circumspect, compassionate saints (or at least smart money-grubbers), and reduce our GHGs as much as we possibly can, as fast as we can.

    They perhaps naively think the most likely scenario is somwhere in the middle. They don’t know about that really awful Freudian (or some such)perversity lurking in our collective subconscious — which, of course, is unprovable & nonempirical, but we know it’s there. It’s the only thing that really explains GW very well.

  49. 49
    Shaka says:

    MC’s main points in State of Fear are completely valid.

    1) The major reason climate research gets funding is because of fears of Global Warming. If climatologists prove global warming is a myth, they’ll lose all their funding. This doesn’t make for unbiased science. Even when someone makes a point that might cast doubt on global warming, they still follow it up with “and of course global warming exists.” A local magazine had both an article like this (describing a new sink for CO found, large enough to cancel out the effects of industrialization in England) which said “But of course global warming is a certainty” and a review criticizing State of Fear — the review stated that SOF claimed that global warming was a fraud perpetrated by homicidal environmentalists. :p

    2) Michael Cricton uses real numbers and statistics to argue his points, which is a lot better than what you can say for most global warming sites. Google “Global Warming” and look for the evidence. One site had 200 “proofs” of global warming. Example: “In 1988, France had a heat wave in which 14 people died.”

    If you don’t understand why this is bad statistics, you don’t deserve to be arguing about global warming in the first place.

    MC also doesn’t say GW is a myth. He is claiming that the process studying it is horribly biased, and flawed. Leave the crappy story about the eco-terrorists out of it, and you have a valid critique of the scientific community.

    [Response: Just using google to find something like GW isn’t such a good idea. There are too many links. Dismissing the concenpt because you found one site saying something silly is an obvious logical fallacy. But if you want real information, you can follow the links here, or read this for some basic sources. Your point (1) isn’t science. Your point (2) doesn’t actually address any scientific concerns. Which, exactly, of C’s points about the actual science do you find so convincing? Why is it that all the people that adore what C says never actually quote any of it? – William]

  50. 50
    David C says:

    RE #49

    1) This is the same argument I have heard regarding medical research (“If somebody cured cancer, all the funding for cancer researchers would dry up.”). The science is driven by the data, which are available for anyone to examine. There have been many opportunities for researchers to challenge that consensus of the climatology community, but the case supporting anthropogenic climate change has only become stronger.

    2) Shaka, please examine the articles posted on this site. You will find many numbers and statistics that come from the peer-review literature. There are other sites (Union of Concerned Scientists, Pew Center on Global Climate Change) that are sources of useful information.


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